With three regular season wins against the Miami Heat, could the New York Knicks be the ones to stop the current NBA Champions from repeating?
Stranger things have happened.
Tuesday's 102-90 victory in Miami was the third time the Knicks have beaten the Heat by double-digits this season, the other two by an impressive 20 points. While this game saw the Heat air on the side of caution with their stars LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, who were both rested to ensure their health is at full capacity for the Playoffs, their performances against the Knicks this season should give Heat fans cause for concern.
The Knicks match up well against the Heat without question. They have a solid interior presence with Tyson Chandler who can guard Chris Bosh. They have Iman Shumpert, who has taken his time to get back into NBA conditioning following a serious ACL injury, but is now considered one of the elite perimeter defenders in the league once again and will be given the responsibility of guarding two-time NBA Champion Dwayne Wade.
Then there's the matchup everyone will be salivating over if the Knicks/Heat rivalry is to continue in the post-season.
Carmelo Anthony vs LeBron James.
They are two of the most gifted players that we've seen for many a year. Anthony is now the league's premiere scorer and his performance at the American Airlines Arena was a thing of beauty. Anthony had a career high 50 points as James looked on helplessly. He was almost flawless, going 18 of 26 from the field and had 27 points by the end of the first half alone. Anthony, like most of the Knicks, are hitting form at just the right time. He has gotten over the niggling injuries that have hampered him throughout the second half of the season and looks primed to take the Knicks on a deep playoff run.
James is the most talented all-around athlete we may have ever seen play Basketball. By the time James is finished playing there will be a legitimate argument as to who is the greatest player to ever play the game, James or Michael Jordan. He is a shoe-in for another Most Valuable Player award, posting career highs in assists and rebounds and he is the driving force behind the Heat attaining the second longest winning streak in NBA history. James will be wrapped in cotton wool for the remainder of the season to ensure his talents are utilised to their maximum as he looks for his second ring.
Anthony has been criticised for his effort on the defensive end of the floor throughout his career but things seem to be on the turn for him. He has played Power Forward for most of the season and has had to guard bigger and more physical players than him for the majority of the time. Not many thought he would have as much success as he has but it seems to have been the making of him. He has finally found a coach he believes in with Mike Woodson and has taken the responsibility as leader of the Knicks very seriously. James will be the acid test for Anthony's new mindset. Nobody can stop James from producing numbers and influencing a game, it's an impossible task nobody has ever mastered. The thing you can do is make things as difficult as possible for him, to do this will require constant pressure and double teams. It promises to be a fascinating matchup that could decide the outcome of the series should they meet in the Playoffs.
If the Knicks are to topple the Heat then they well need major contributions from their supporting cast. No more so than J.R Smith. The current Eastern Conference player of the week has been on a tear of late and it will be of critical importance that he continues this fine form come Playoff time. Smith looks more focused than ever this season. He looks to have embraced the pressure that comes with playing in New York and is thriving. He has had some off-the-court problems throughout his career which have been well documented but he has matured before our very eyes this season. Smith's career has been plagued with inconsistency and whilst he can sometimes still fall into the 'Streaky Shooter' category, those nights are now few and far between as he has earned the right to be one of the frontrunners for the sixth man of the year award. Whether he will retain this form in the pressure cooker of the Playoffs remains to be seen and it will be fascinating to watch to see if Smith can continue to grow.
Let's not get carried away with ourselves here. Yes, the Knicks have beaten the Heat more than any other team in the NBA this season, but beating them four times in a Playoff series is a daunting prospect to say the least. Tuesday's defeat was only the second time they have been beaten in the last 30 games. I'll say that again, twice in the last 30 games, and one team will have to beat Miami four times out of seven games. All the statistics point to that being a near impossible task.
We must also take the Knicks Playoff history into consideration too. It has been an astonishing 4700 days since the Knicks last won a Playoff series, something which the City has found tough to live with over the years. The pressure of winning a series has been too much pressure for the Knicks teams of the past. Will it be too much for this team? They have enough talent and they have surrounded their stars with experienced Veterans who all have been on deep Playoff runs in the past. They even have a couple of players with NBA Championships in Tyson Chandler and Jason Kidd, who played on the same Dallas Mavericks team that won it all. This experience will be invaluable if the Knicks are to get out of the rut they have been stuck in for so long.
On the plus side, there isn't a hotter team in the NBA right now. New York is on a crest of a wave and have hit form at just the right time. They have now won 9 straight and seem to be getting everyone back healthy at just right time. They have had their fair share of injury problems this year, this was to be expected with the oldest squad in the League. Mike Woodson has done an amazing job of managing the minutes of his ageing stars and it is crucial he must continue this trend if they are to achieve their goals.
I expect the Knicks to meet the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals and it promises to be a thrilling series. It is what everybody wants to see and will be great for the global promotion of the NBA. The atmosphere at Madison Square Garden for this occasion will be something the league hasn't seen for years. The NBA needs a good New York team and this is as good as they have been since the days of Patrick Ewing, John Starks et al.
Can they beat the Heat? Sounds impossible to everyone observing and their are a lot of hurdles to overcome between now and then. One thing is for sure, the entire World will be watching.
However, as the old saying goes....
Impossible is Nothing.
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_